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Lions Roar : May 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2012 32 of poor performance. “These days it’s all about data,” she said. “Data, data, data. It’s all-pervasive.” And so it began to pervade our home. In the weeks and months after that first report card, I watched my son enter his own data trance, suddenly fixating on grades and praise. He insisted that my husband give him a thumbs-up whenever he accomplished a task, however minor. He graded us, too. One day his father received an “A” for hugging but only a “C+” for taking care of his stuffed elephant (because Ella landed on the floor). A week later I received a “100 percent” for dinner. Apparently I make a very excellent taco! His younger brother received a “B” for “hitting the dirt” (he looked like a lopsided starfish) and an “A” for “standing at attention.” (Have I mentioned the military drills in gym class yet? At this point, a regular gym class activity was “Battleships, Tanks, and Bombers.”) We were even graded on quietness. My son would stand by his chalkboard and announce that it was time for a “quiet contest.” When his younger brother called out from the bath he received a punitive tick. Suddenly everything was susceptible to evaluation. Strawberries outranked blueberries on the “Best Berry” hierar- chy. Dr. Seuss beat Shel Silverstein 5-1. As the grading game continued, I tried to explain to my demoralized youngest son that it was probably a good idea not to take it too personally. After all, wasn’t a “Q+” on your pro- nunciation of “father” better than an “R”? Then one morning it dawned on me that by taking a bad situation and inflating it, he was actually allowing us to see it better. The perversion of the norm was allowing us to view the norm in all its surreal glory. I began to reflect on my own school years, a sobering process. And not for the reasons one might assume. I was a “topnotch” student; I drowned myself in schoolwork. But the expectations I placed on myself did not serve me well. Being an honor roll stu- dent did not encourage me to ask pertinent questions about how the world worked or provide me with the essential skills required to be a holistic and scholarly thinker, let alone a balanced child or compassionate human being. Those A grades did not ennoble me or make me more content. Far from it. What they did was establish an impossible and warping standard. They instilled a fear of failure, and, more specifically, a fear of letting my immigrant parents down. The conditioning was so deep that it has taken me years—and a dedicated yoga and meditation practice—to lessen the striving voice in my mind. The voice is quieter these days but there is still a background murmur. Walking into my son’s school and seeing gold stars, trophies, ribbons—all our culture’s more bla- tant yardsticks of competitive performance and achievement—I can hear the voice again, an ancient din of self-judgment and comparison. And I don’t think I’m alone. How many adults can claim to be completely intrinsically motivated, or independent of other’s approval? How many of us have entirely shed the ghost words of teachers we have known, those exhilarating or stigma- tizing judgments we misconstrue as our “inner” critic? It’s hard to find equanimity in a culture so defined by compe- tition, so locked in “comparing mind.” Lately, I’ve found some SUPERB SERVICE FOR ALL YOUR REAL ESTATE NEEDS SANTA FE & NEW MEXICO 888-832-5668